It’s time for COVID-19 recovery that tackles the root causes of inequality

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Emily Eberly/Oxfam America

COVID-19 has highlighted just how deep inequality runs. Now, as we look toward recovery, we must fight for systemic change.

Over the past year, the COVID-19 crisis exposed and worsened the deep, systemic inequalities that exist throughout society both here in the US and around the world. President Biden is pursuing the Build Back Better Act, which could make historic advancements in addressing the interlocking crises of climate change, racial injustice, gender inequality, and economic inequity. We need Congress to get on board.

How has COVID-19 impacted communities?

COVID-19 has had a compounding impact on historically marginalized communities. Families who were already struggling have been pushed to the brink and are now facing even greater rates of poverty and hunger. In fact, the pandemic has made much of the world poorer—with women, Black people, Indigenous peoples, and historically marginalized communities feeling the most devastating and enduring impacts. Black women in particular have faced some of the worst effects of COVID, while also making up a disproportionate number of the essential workforce. COVID-19 has increased inequality across the country by disenfranchising already struggling workers, families, and communities.

The Biden administration and congressional Democrats already passed legislation that begins to address some of these crucial issues, but it is just a first step. There is still a long way to go in the fight against inequality, and we must keep the pressure on.

How can COVID relief address inequality?

We strongly believe that COVID-19 relief and recovery must address the root causes of inequality, so that we can begin to unrig the systems that perpetuate it. This means strengthening workers’ rights, investing in the care industry, ending fossil fuel subsidies, and reimagining our tax system so that corporations and the very rich start paying their fair share. Recovery must be rooted in addressing our biggest challenges.

1. Strengthening workers’ rights

COVID-19 made already challenging working conditions worse. Workers have been feeling the anxiety acutely – with employers often taking advantage of an uncertain situation. Wages have been stagnant as CEO pay is up; workers face uncertain schedules, scant benefits, and workplace hazards.

Even as many of us begin to emerge from the pandemic, countless workers are still contracting the virus, still taking it home—and still dying. However, the Biden administration recently announced COVID-19 safety regulations will only apply to the healthcare industry, leaving millions of essential workers—who are disproportionately women and people of color—in danger. It’s time for our government to require employers to implement meaningful measures to protect the health and safety of low-wage workers. All jobs created by COVID relief should be dignified, green jobs that ensure safe workplaces, family-sustaining wages, and protection of workers’ rights to organize.

2. Investing in the care industry

Women have taken on the bulk of care responsibilities at home both before and during the pandemic. Women of color also make up the majority of care workers—an industry that has been devastated by the COVID-19 crisis. In order to have an inclusive and robust economic recovery, we need a functioning care industry and a society that recognizes the critical value of unpaid and underpaid care work.

Our leaders must start treating care as essential. They must include care as a vital part of our economic recovery efforts; they must directly address the needs of underserved and low-wage women; and they must value the work of caring for children, the sick, people with disabilities, and the elderly in a way that will ultimately lead to a more equitable economy and society.

3. Ending fossil fuel subsidies

The pandemic devastated the most vulnerable communities who were already facing the worst impacts of climate change. The federal government supports the production of fossil fuels with an estimated $15 billion yearly in tax subsidies–in part because Big Oil continues to lobby Congress to prop up their industry. It’s appalling that we are still subsidizing fossil fuels, while these companies rake in billions in profits.

Rather than continuing to invest in fossil fuel development that drives climate change and impacts the health of local communities, we should be using public money to drive investment in clean, green jobs; modernize our grid; and advance fossil free energy. This is one of the crucial steps we need to take to fight climate change and protect vulnerable communities all over the world.

4. Compelling the very rich and corporations to pay their fair share

Billionaires and corporations profited off of the pandemic and continue to amass wealth amidst global suffering. As the poorest among us are falling deeper into poverty as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, companies such as Amazon have seen enormous jumps in revenue and profits—ending up richer than they were before.

This is a gross inequity, but we have the ability to right the wrong in the US by reimagining our tax system. Right now, the rules are rigged in favor of the wealthy. It’s time for corporations and the very rich to pay their fair share. Increasing taxes on the wealthiest companies is a key part of addressing growing inequality and could fund child care, feed families, and lift people out of poverty. Reforming our tax system would mean more than just doing what’s fair and right. It could also save lives and improve the wellbeing of families around the world.

It is clear that our current systems leave out millions of Americans, so that when a crisis hits, it is the historically marginalized who face the greatest impacts. We must use this historic moment as an opportunity to work toward systemic change and reverse the disproportionate impacts of COVID on women and communities of color, because everyone deserves the opportunity to thrive, not just survive.

You can make a change by demanding that President Biden and Congress commit to economic recovery that addresses systemic inequality.

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